Photography by Justin Tsucalas
Almost all Jews left Syria in 1997, but their cuisine has been well preserved. Syrian cuisine is quite unique. The recipes often highlight dried fruits, lentils and sweet-sour flavors such as tamarind and pomegranates. Spices are dominant in most dishes — especially turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, allspice and saffron. Cilantro is also used, as well as Persian olives, rose water and preserved lemons, all influenced by professional chefs in many Syrian/Persian as well as other fused ethnic dishes. Here in Baltimore, you can buy real kosher Syrian foods made by two local mavens.
Let me introduce two workaholic moms who love to cook and entertain: Ora Imanoel and Pearl Dwek. They discovered that many friends kept asking them for their recipes. Imanoel and Dwek joined forces to create a unique catering company: Mazza From Heaven. The women create tasty, homemade, kosher food that is healthy, preservative-free and reasonably priced. They buy most of the authentic spices and ingredients from Middle Eastern or Indian shops. The menu is a mix of Syrian, Persian and American cuisine. Imanoel’s profession as a nurse allows Mazza to accommodate a wide range of special needs, such as for those who have swallowing difficulties or gluten-free, vegetarian and diabetic diets. Along with daily meals, Imanoel and Dwek can provide meals for Shabbat, holidays, vacations and special occasions. They also offer package deals based on any budget and taste. To contact Mazza From Heaven, call Imanoel at 410-530-3158 or contact them at email@example.com.
SYRIAN MECHSHI KUSA
(Zucchini or Yellow Squash stuffed with ground meat and rice)
8-10 medium zucchini or yellow squash
1 pound Hashu (Syrian ground meat and rice filling, below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
20 dried apricots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 potato, peeled
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons ott (tamarind concentrate), homemade or store-bought
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup short grain rice
1 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 onion, chopped (optional)
1 cup pine nuts (optional )
Soak rice in water enough to cover for 15 minutes, then drain. Combine all other ingredients and mix well. Strip the outside of the zucchini and cut them in half horizontally. Remove any seeds. Loosely stuff each half with the Hashu. In a medium-large pot, peel and slice a potato and line the bottom of the pot with it with the vegetable oil. Layer the squash halfway up the pot, then put half the apricots on top. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook the squash for 10 minutes or until it begins to release liquid. Add the remaining apricots in a layer and sprinkle with salt. Mix the fresh lemon juice, ott and sugar and add to top of apricots. Pour 1 cup of water and place a heat-proof plate on top of the mixture as a weight. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat Reduce heat to low simmer, then let cook for one hour or place directly in preheated 350-degree oven for an hour. 6-8 servings.
PEARL’S POMEGRANATE MARINATED RACK OF LAMB
2 racks of lamb (8 chops each)
6 large cloves garlic, minced
11/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, for garnish
To prepare lamb, lightly score fat in a diamond pattern; rub each rack with half the garlic and half the thyme. Put lamb in a heavy-duty resealable bag. Scrape up off the work surface any garlic and thyme that didn’t adhere to the lamb; add it to the bag. Pour pomegranate juice into bag, then seal. Marinate lamb in the refrigerator overnight, turning
occasionally. To cook lamb, remove lamb from bag, reserving marinade; pat dry. Bring to cool room temperature. Meanwhile, strain reserved marinade; reduce over medium-high heat by about half. Reserve.
Rub each rack with half the olive oil; season well with salt and pepper. Arrange racks in a shallow roasting pan, fat side up. Roast at 500 degrees until the internal temperature reads between 125 degrees or 130 degrees for medium rare, about 25 minutes. Baste lamb with reserved reduced marinade twice toward the end of cooking, saving some. Remove lamb from oven; cover with a tea towel. Let cool 10 minutes. Carve into chops. Drizzle each chop with a scant teaspoon of remaining reduced marinade. Garnish chops with pomegranate seeds. Makes 16 chops to serve 4.
From “A Fistful of Lentils” — This is a much more exotic and richer honey cake than the ones served at Rosh Hashanah.
(Honey Cake with Sesame Glaze)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking power
2/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Prepare the cake by combining the beaten eggs, tahini, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add to wet mixture and mix well. Pour batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or a 9-inch spring form pan and bake at 350 degrees about 25 to 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Allow to cool completely and loosen edges with a sharp knife to remove. Place a large flat plate on top of pan and turn the cake upside down. For glaze: In a small saucepan, combine honey and tahini and cook over low until blended to a smooth consistency, about 5 minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for at least 30 minutes. You can cut into diamond shapes about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide and serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
MISH MOSH M’FIS’DOK
(From “A Fistful of Lentils”)
(Cold Rose Water Syrup with Apricots & Pistachios)
2 cups (1 pound) firmly packed dried whole Turkish apricots
5 3/4 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons rose water
1/2 cup whole shelled pistachio nuts or 1 cup slivered blanched almonds
1 cup water (if using pistachios)
Wash the apricots and place in a large glass or silver serving bowl, covering with 5 cups of the cold water. Place the sugar and remaining 3/4 cup of cold water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Set aside and let cool for 10 minutes. Pour the sugar syrup into the soaking apricots. Add 2 tablespoons of the rose water and stir gently several times very carefully, not breaking apricots. If adding pistachios, bring the 1 cup water to a boil. Add the pistachios and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the hot water, run nuts under cold water and place them on paper towels to dry. The thin brown skins should slip off when you pinch them, revealing a fresh green color, which contrasts nicely with the bright orange apricots. Add the slivered almonds or pistachios to the apricots in the bowl and mix gently. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. Immediately before serving, stir in the remaining half tablespoon of rose water. Serve very cold in small bowls with small spoons. 6-8 servings.